“Right. You, stand here. Ana, grab both of his hands and don’t let go. This will only take a second. Sacha, hold Ana’s hands. Don’t move.”
With these words opens the Season of Optimism 2014. We are at the Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade, about to depart for the UK. I have with me two children (aged 3 and 1), one rucksack stuffed with snacks, books and toys (approximate weight 1000 kilos) and one blue Bugaboo pushchair (easy to fold, bought for child no. 1 now enjoyed by child no. 2, hence in various states of dirt and disrepair – but still cool. And light. And manageable on any surface).
We are standing in front of the huge X ray tunnel. Well, it’s just your usual X ray machine but it looks like a tunnel to me, a never ending tunnel which swallows anything that approaches it, almost like a black hole right here in the middle of the airport. I have to put the precious pushchair through it (we have another pushchair at home; but here, there is of course only this one – the one I am about to fold and trust into the jaws of the X-ray black hole; I hope it comes out at the other end, or I will be in much trouble trying to catch two children with two legs each, tiny little legs capable of running very fast and surprisingly far).
When Sacha was smaller (or even Ana, for that matter, while she was still an only child and we used to travel back and forth) I used to just thrust him into the arms of the nearest unsuspecting traveller, passer by, innocent observer or security guard, when I had to take him out of the pushchair in order to fold it. Sacha (and Ana, before him) used to hate that, and protest loudly. But things have moved on; these are the toddler times; Sacha is perfectly capable of standing by himself, I just have to make sure he doesn’t do that other thing he is also perfectly capable of – a ‘runner’.
Hence the above Quote of Optimism.
But low and behold, the unexpected happens. Ana holds Sacha firmly, Sacha loves this new game and hold her back equally firmly. No one runs anywhere, we pass the security control and the passport control and another security control and the gate control and surely some other controls (they seem never ending), and without an incident/drama/meltdown under our belt, we make it onto the plane.
And so our journey home starts.
The time away, was in a word – perfect. We used every day of sunshine to walk, play and meet friends outside (and every day was sunshine). We used every moment of relaxation to bond, cuddle, tickle and giggle (and all moments were of relaxation). We used every bit of courage to hold back the tears when we had to say our goodbyes (but still there were tears, as no courage is enough when you have to say goodbye to people you love dearly).
Now, on the plane, the rucksack gets its five minutes of glory. Oh, the rucksack, the magic bag that contains Everything We Could Possibly Need – small bottles of ready made Aptamil (easy to pour, no mess), crayons and books for drawing and colouring in, two books of stickers because, if you’re travelling Ipad free (and I refuse to cave in and become just another parent who zones out while the children are zoned in to the BBC Iplayer episodes of CBeebies – for now at least), you better have some sticker books with you! On top of that, a couple of favourite toys, a couple of small wind up toys which make Sacha laugh (Ana, being more than a year and a half older, is infinitely easier to entertain and more self-sufficient by now), one book of stories, a book of farm animals which takes a long time to get through (if you do all the animal noises), which is a bonus. And finally, of course, the snacks – a Serbian variety of baby biscuits which even our health-conscious family considers to be a healthy snack (the power of paradigm in action!) and some ever-so-slightly-salty fish shaped nibbles which children, for some mysterious reason, simply adore. Water, change of clothes, nappies et al – that completes the list of what I pack in the hand luggage, when travelling with small children. Two of them, please. Yes, I’ll have those to go. J
Someone said to me once that “everyone believes in God at 30,000 feet”. As an atheist, I entirely and completely agree.
It’s not the fear of crashing that makes me suddenly religious, oh no.
It’s not the fear of being high-jacked by terrorists.
It’s not the anticipation of the “Brace yourselves” command issued urgently over the radio (although I don’t like flying), nor the uneasy feeling as we fly over water and I try to judge what our chances would be on impact.
No no no. It’s the fear of Losing Control of the Small Passengers. Of that first shriek which can mean the dreaded I-will-scream-for-the-rest-of-the-flight-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it opening line. Of the meltdowns, with a reason or for no reason, because of tiredness or hunger or pressure in the ears or the extortionate duty free prices or the total ban on smoking (even in the toilets) or all of the above. Or anything else. Anything that has the potential to turn my happy, easy going children into tiny tyrants, ready to shame me in front of the whole plane (and who would ever think that opinion of strangers could worry you so much!) as an Incompetent Mother.
But amazingly, this doesn't happen. I have been travelling, mostly alone, with these two little people since each of them was less than four months old, and they travel well. And get better with age. It’s almost too good to believe.
As we sit in our crammed seats, ignoring the bossy air-hostesses and enjoying each other’s proximity, this lack of conflict and anxiety means we can all, in our own way, process the memories of the month in Serbia and what we’re leaving behind. Me, by picturing some of the best moments and swallowing a tear or two. Ana, by colouring in "Peppa Pig On Holiday" (thanks, Peppa, for the support!). Sacha, by trying to put his toes in his mouth. It’s all therapeutic.
Here are some of those moments, I guess.
And so we head on home, into the arms of the man, the father and the husband, who eagerly awaits us. He's been a trouper over this last month. It can't be easy. But he makes it look easy.
We make it back into the familiarity of our home, children are in love with all of their old toys again, I’m delighted to see that all the plants are still alive, the bed is made with fresh and nicely ironed sheets, the fridge is full – hey, I married well. He’s a keeper (unless he had a secret house keeper, while we were gone – but that’s okay by me, if this is what I find on return!)
Tomorrow, or the day after, we will Skype with Serbia and talk about what a great time we all had. Life goes on. With love, it’s all possible.